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Morning tip: 7-point plan for how Wizards can get split in Game 2 vs. Celtics

Morning tip: 7-point plan for how Wizards can get split in Game 2 vs. Celtics

BOSTON — A playoff series truly turns when the home team loses on its own floor, so even if the Boston Celtics win tonight and the Wizards hold serve at home in Games 3 and 4 nothing has really changed.

But a 2-0 lead would put the pressure on the No. 4 seed to be flawless to get back level in the East semifinals. 

So how do the Wizards do it? 

It's simple in theory.

The Celtics aren't anywhere near the most talented team in the league, or even in their own conference despite their No. 1 seed. They play disciplined basketball, however, with an IQ that has to be matched. This is what the Wizards did wrong, and what they'll have to do better.


If they get the split, blowing the 17-point lead in Game 1 Sunday doesn't matter quite as much:

7. Exploit Isaiah Thomas' inability to defend.

If the Celtics continue to try to hide the 5-9 point guard on the 6-8 Otto Porter, run him off curls or run pick-and-roll with him to force the switch onto John Wall and Bradley Beal. The reason is twofold: the Celtics switch everything and getting him on a three-point shooter like Beal is an easier look for him than vs. Avery Bradley who is bigger, stronger, and an All-NBA caliber defender. If Porter runs off curls, Thomas will usually have trouble getting over the screens of bigs and trail the play making him not much of a threat to recover and contest. If the big steps up to help, that opens a path for Porter who is an adept passer to leave it for a layup to his big diving to the basket. That'll force the Celtics to change their coverages or pull Thomas off the floor. Chances are they'll stick with him but regardless of how much he scores he has to be made a liability on every possession possible and he might get himself into foul trouble.

6. Ball pressure at the high and pinch posts.

That's where Al Horford does his best work. He executes dribble handoffs and pitches to the wings and screens to get them in the paint. He sets flare screens for three-point shooters. When they go to high/low action -- see his entry passes to Kelly Olynyk when defended by a smaller defender en route to 10 assists for Horford -- it's an easy feed at the rim. Being more aggressive with Horford doesn't allow him the comfort of surveying his options. 

5. Blow up screens.

Rather than allowing the screens to come and then trying to respond, which often means the guards getting pinned underneath, the Wizards have to not only anticipate, but fight over the top. It not only throws off the timing of the offense but forces the ball farther out of their preferred operational zone. There were opportunites to shoot the gaps on the handoffs but that didn't happen enough.

4. Don't overhelp off three-point shooters.

Even below average long-ballers such as Marcus Smart can't find their mark if you give them room and time to line up a look. Jae Crowder is a good three-point shooter at 40% for the season. But he's not going to shoot 6-for-8 unless he can get the space he was allowed in Game 1. Give up a mid-range two-point shot before an open three-point shot. Even if they make them all, that's 19 fewer points for Boston which would've translated into 104 total points Sunday instead of 123. Lose some small battles to win the war.


3. Don't wait. Dictate.

When the Celtics run double high screens for Thomas, for instance, don't allow him to choose which side he wants to go to with the ball. He's almost always going to choose left, which is his strong hand, drive back the big (while Thomas' man is likely pinned underneath) and pull up for the 5-foot floater. If the big comes up to stop him, he has to be high enough to contest the the pull up. Thomas had too much space. The defense has to force him to go where it wants him to go and make him take the shots they want him to take, not vice versa. Horford can't be allowed to dribble under the three-point line because by the time he hands off, the guard or wing player is in the paint and the defense is officially compromised.

2. Get back to set off misses and don't gamble.

Thomas' first two made three-pointers came off misses in close by Marcin Gortat and Bradley Beal. The first one was easy because Wall went for a steal in the passing lane, missed and Thomas was wide open. When Kelly Oubre stayed in front and used his 7-2 wingspan to contest Thomas, he missed. Thomas might still get his points but make him take more shots to get them. 

1. Turnovers.

The Wizards only had 13 which isn't that bad, but eight came in the third quarter when the game turned. Five of those came from Wall as he drove into three defenders. Putting Boston in transition and matching up with shooters becomes difficult because ultimately there's a mismatch as defenders are forced to take the closest man. The ball movement almost always finds the right person.  Ten of their third-quarter points came off the giveaways. The Celtics went 6-for-13 on threes in that period alone. 

Even with their roster not at full-strength, the Wizards' best talent is better than Boston's, but the Celtics stayed discipline which allowed them to get back into the game and win. 


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Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

The Wizards' selection of Troy Brown of the University of Oregon with their first round pick has been met with a strong reaction among fans, many of whom argue he doesn't play a position of need, that it was a luxury pick when other areas could have been addressed, most notably in their frontcourt. Big man Robert Williams of Texas A&M, for example, was still on the board. 

The Wizards, though, did address needs by picking Brown. And really, they arguably filled more pressing needs in the short-term than those at power forward and center.

Though the Wizards clearly need some help at big man in the long-term, as both of their starting bigs are on expiring deals, they need help immediately at both shooting guard and small forward. Brown, though he is only 18 years old and offers no guarantees to contribute right away, can play both of those positions.

Shooting guard is where he can help the most. The Wizards have one backup shooting guard in Jodie Meeks and he is due to miss the first 19 games of the 2018-19 season while serving a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.

Even when Meeks was available this past season, he only helped so much. He shot just 39.9 percent from the field and 34.3 percent from three. Head coach Scott Brooks often chose to rely more on starter Bradley Beal than go to Meeks as his replacement. As a result, Beal logged the fourth-most minutes of any player in the NBA.

More depth at shooting guard will help relieve Beal of some of that workload. That would be great for keeping him fresh throughout the season and help him be at his best when they need him most in the playoffs.

The Wizards also have some urgency at small forward. It is their strongest position in terms of one-two on the depth chart, but they have no logical third option. That was magnified in the playoffs once Otto Porter got injured. They were left with Kelly Oubre, Jr. and had to trot out Tomas Satoransky, who has limited experience at the position.

Brown can play both shooting guard and small forward, giving them much needed depth. If he can play well enough to earn a rotation spot, the emergency situations the Wizards encountered last season could be avoided in 2018-19.

The Wizards still need to find long-term solutions at power forward and center, but they were going to need to find answers at shooting guard and small forward as well. Both Meeks and Oubre have one year left on their deals. Brown helps solidify the long-term outlook at wing.

Now, there's no denying the Wizards already had considerable talent at both shooting guard and small forward with Beal, Porter and Oubre. That begs the question of how much Brown can offer particularly in the first year of his career. But the Wizards would like to play more positionless basketball and to do that requires depth at wing.

The Boston Celtics have helped make positionless basketball famous and their roster shows that the one player-type you can't have enough of is similar to Brown. Boston has Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Morris. All are around 6-foot-7 or 6-foot-8 and offer versatility on both ends of the floor.

The Wizards also now have four players of that size and with positional versatility in Brown, Porter, Oubre and Satoransky. They can roll out different combinations of those guys and possibly have an advantage on defense with the ability to switch seamlessly on screens.

In the age of positionless basketball, players of Brown's ilk have become major assets especially for teams that have many of them. There is such a thing as having too many point guards or centers because they can't coexist on the floor. Versatile wings, in most scenarios, can play together in numbers.

It's different but in a way similar to certain positions in other sports. In baseball, you can have too many catchers but you can't have too many talented pitchers and utility players. In football, you can have too many running backs or tight ends, but you can't have too many defensive linemen. 

Brown gives them options from a roster perspective in the long-term. Oubre has one year left on his contract and if he continues his trejectory with a strong 2018-19 season, he could price himself out of Washington. Brown could move up the depth chart as his replacement one year from now. The Wizards also now have the option to consider trades at the position given their depth.

The problem, one could argue, with drafting Brown over a Williams-type is that it limits their options at center in particular. Drafting Williams would have made it easier to trade Marcin Gortat, for instance, because they would have had depth to deal from. Now, it's more difficult to trade Gortat, whom they have shopped on and off for months, without a plan to replace him. Finding a Gortat substitute in free agency with the limited resource they have would not be easy.

But big man wasn't their only need and in Brown the Wizards may have found a solution at other areas where they clearly needed help.


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Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did


Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did

The first round of the NBA Draft played out expectedly for what the Wizards had planned for the night. In Troy Brown, they clearly got the guy they wanted all along, seeing as there were many interesting prospects they passed on to choose him.

The second round was a bit more chaotic. Team president Ernie Grunfeld said there were a few players picked just ahead of them at No. 44 that they had their eyes on. They contemplated trading up, but no perfect deals were presented.

So, they decided to think long-term, like really long-term. In choosing Ukrainian point guard Issuf Sanon, the Wizards understand it may be years before he plays in the NBA.

"We hope to have him developed in a few years," Grunfeld said.

Sanon, just 18, plays for Olimpija Ljubljana in Slovenia. He may stay in Europe into his 20s before he comes to the United States.

The Wizards have utilized the draft-and-stash model with other players. Their 2015 second round pick, Aaron White, has been playing in Europe for the past three seasons.

Sometimes those players never convey and contribute for the Wizards. But sometimes they do and Grunfeld pointed to a player already on their roster as a model to consider.

"We drafted Tomas [Satoransky] at an earlier age, he went overseas [and] he played at the highest level and it got him ready for the NBA," Grunfeld said.

The difference between now and then is that the Wizards have a G-League franchise starting this fall, the Capital City Go-Go. Because of that, it seemed more likely going into the draft that the Wizards would use the second round pick on a guy who can play there right away. 

Grunfeld, however, opted for roster flexibility. By keeping Sanon in Europe, the Wizards can have another open roster spot. They could either fill that spot, or leave spots on the end of their roster open as they did for much of last season.

"We want to preserve a roster spot, so just because you draft someone in your second round, if you sign him, he still has a roster spot even if you let him play for the GoGo," Grunfeld said.

Sanon may have a bright future. He is a 6-foot-4 point guard with impressive athleticism who doesn't turn 19 until October. He said he models his game after Russell Westbrook, as a guard who can score the ball. More will be known about him once he plays for their summer league team in July.

The Wizards passed on several interesting prospects to pick Sanon. Still on the board were Keita Bates-Diop of Ohio State, Hamidou Diallo of Kentucky and Svi Mykhailiuk of Kansas, three players they brought in for pre-draft workouts. But instead, they went with a long-term investment, hoping they found the next Satoransky.


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